EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The need is glaring. The New York Giants have to address the edge rusher position in the worst way.
At this moment they don’t have a player slated to play outsider linebacker who had more than 3.5 sacks last season. And that player, Ifeadi Odenigbo, didn’t even play outside linebacker last season with the Minnesota Vikings. The other notables include Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, both coming off major injuries, and Ryan Anderson, who was a backup and didn’t record a sack in nine games last season with the Washington Football Team.
Yep, it’s a good thing the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App) is coming. The Giants, who went hard after Leonard Floyd in free agency, will add an edge rusher — whether it’s at pick No. 11 overall, later in the first round after a trade down or maybe a scenario where they trade up on Day 2. Somewhere, sometime relatively early in the draft, the need will be addressed. It’s why they’ve done extensive work on the position in the pre-draft process.
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When Floyd elected to return to the Los Angeles Rams last month it pointed the Giants squarely in this direction. At that point, they pivoted in free agency (eventually filling another massive hole at wide receiver by signing Kenny Golladay) and it became obvious they would address edge rusher later in the offseason.
As in … now.
“Well, there is a draft, right?” general manager Dave Gettleman said prior to free agency when asked about filling the needs for a No. 1 wide receiver and edge rusher, two generally expensive positions, in the same offseason. “So, you don’t necessarily have to buy them both.”
Bring on the draft capital. The Giants pick once each in the first four rounds (pick Nos. 11, 42, 76 and 116) and have a pair of sixth-round selections. Consider it a major upset if their first or second pick isn’t used on an edge rusher.
The dilemma facing the Giants is whether any of the pass-rushers in this year’s draft are worthy of the No. 11 pick.
“So I look at [Miami’s] Jaelen Phillips as the best pass-rusher, but he’s projected more in that 18-23 area,” ESPN senior draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “It really depends on what you’re looking for and how you value these guys.
“Pass-rushers are all a little flawed. There is nothing perfect about these guys. There is no Myles Garrett in this draft. If you want a guy, you’re going to have to roll the dice. And if you roll the dice you want a guy who plays fierce and has the work ethic and passion — that would be a Kwity Paye. Jaelen Phillips same thing.”
Kiper and fellow ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller believe if there is one edge rusher who can emerge as the No. 11 overall pick it would be Paye. At 6-foot-2, 261 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and did 36 reps in the bench press at the Michigan pro day.
Paye’s agility and athleticism is what has some scouts drooling, even if he had just 12 tackles and two sacks this past season, which was affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Coaches at Michigan talk about he’s a better athlete than players like Rashan Gary, who they had come through there and be first-round picks,” Miller said. “He would be the one that if you bet on the potential and then look at the athleticism, he could be the player that rises.”
The Giants think highly of Paye and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, according to multiple sources. But would they be better off trading down, something Gettleman has never done in his eight drafts as a general manager? It might be the best option to marry their board with a need.
Kiper has Paye ranked No. 16 on his Big Board. Phillips is No. 22. None of the other edge rushers are in his top 25 (although Ojulari just missed at No. 26). McShay’s top edge rushers don’t come into play until what he labeled Tier 3, with Paye at No. 18, Zaven Collins No. 23, Ojulari No. 24 and Phillips No. 28.
Trading up from the second round into the late first fits more into Gettleman’s profile than a move back. He’s traded up for a player on seven of his 54 overall selections as a GM with the Giants and Carolina Panthers, most recently when New York jumped back into the first round of the 2019 NFL draft for Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker.
Being patient also might not be the worst option. It’s possible a player like Collins, Phillips or Rousseau could fall into the second round considering they come with questions. Phillips retired in December 2018 because of concussion concerns before transferring from UCLA, Rousseau opted out this past season and his sacks have been achieved more with effort than premium talent, and Collins’ production came against some questionable competition.
“We could still see good edge rushers in Round 2,” Miller said.
He listed players such as Washington’s Joe Tryon, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins and Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones II as possibilities. He considered Jones good value in the second round with his ability to play inside, with his hand on the ground and as a standup outside linebacker. That’s the kind of versatility that fits the Giants’ multiple defense.
This would be another way to go if the Giants wanted to stack their offensive weapons should a wide receiver like Alabama’s Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle make it to them at 11. Or an offensive lineman like Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater. Go offense at No. 11, attack edge rusher in Round 2.
A quick poll of four league sources was unanimous in concluding that Smith, Waddle or Slater would be available when the Giants picked. They are currently ranked No. 3, No. 5 and No. 9 on Kiper’s Big Board, respectively.
They would be great value at No. 11. Perhaps the best value, even though New York’s need for an edge rusher exists in the worst of ways.